My ADHD Brain, Episode Five: What actually is ADHD?

I realise I have rather ‘put the cart before the horse’ as the phrase goes and started by jumping straight in and explaining some of the more peripheral and personal aspects of ADHD without first setting the scene and actually explaining what it is. This is probably because my brain is going ‘yawn, yawn, can we just get on to the interesting bits?’

So, in short, here’s what ADHD is. Thanks to the ADHD UK website for the clear and concise description, chunks of which I have nicked for this blog:

What is it?

ADHD UK: “People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with day-to-day functioning and/or development.”

What causes it?

Nobody is entirely sure but there are often genetic links. Part of the brain linked to executive function develops more slowly in the ADHD brain, and neurotransmitters don’t function in the same ways as in neurotypical brains, something that has been shown in brain scans. 

What are the diagnostic criteria?

Thanks to ADHD UK for the below though it can be found on many websites:

Inattention

Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:

Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.

  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
  • Often has trouble organising tasks and activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:

  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
  • Often talks excessively.
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Often has trouble waiting their turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or game
In addition, the following conditions must be met:
  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
  • Several symptoms are present in two or more settings, (such as at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
  • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or a personality disorder). The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

The ADHD UK website also describes Adult ADHD very well, and describes a process that has happened to me: “For those with hyperactivity a child may command incessant and demanding extremes of activity; then as an adolescent moving to fidgeting instead of larger movements, and as adult having a sustained inner sense of restlessness.” 

This is so true and so important. If you are looking just for someone who gets up and runs about a lot and is always physically active then you are going to miss a hell of a lot of ADHD adults. I fidget a lot when bored, and have quite bad trichotillomania (obsessive hair pulling), and as a teen I had bad skin picking as well (which I have thankfully outgrown), but I am not very physically active or sporty. Above all it’s the internal restlessness that is the issue. A lot of my ADHD is on the inside, something that is common in adults, particularly women. 

Check out the excellent website of understood.org who add this description:

“People with ADHD have trouble with a group of key skills known as executive function . And that creates challenges in many areas of life, from school to work to everyday living. For example, people with ADHD often struggle to get organized, follow directions, and manage their emotions.”

And here are some links to useful, (mostly) reliable sources of information: 

I am also including the official NHS one, although it is pretty rubbish, to be honest. I have spotted numerous inaccuracies in it. If this is what the GPs are reading no wonder they’re confused and unhelpful. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Phew. Glad that’s done. 

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